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The magic fix to get more done and feel less stress

When it comes time to get stuff done, how good are you at being really productive?

Can you buckle down and knock out work?

Or do you start something and get distracted by something else…and then something else…and then before you know it you’re on your third BuzzFeed quiz?

It’s really hard to stay focused these days, isn’t it?

If you work in an office, you’ve got people who need things from you. You’ve got the phone ringing. You’ve got the black hole of the internet at your fingertips.

How in the world do you stay on task with all that going on?

If you’re at home, it’s probably worse. At home you’re constantly making decisions on the fly about what tasks are more important than others.

Can the dirty diaper wait until the pasta is done cooking? Can the barking dog wait until two more checks get written?

The end result is that many of us get to the end of the day feeling like we didn’t make much progress at all.

We don’t feel like we have anything to show for the day.

And that doesn’t feel very good, right?

Unfortunately, that’s how a lot of days feel for me.

But this week, I found the fix.

When I found the fix, I immediately started seeing better results in my work.

I was getting more done.

I was feeling less stress.

I could see what needed to be done now and what needed to be done next.

I didn’t get distracted.

I was so happy.

So what was this magic fix?

It’s so simple it’s stupid.

I honestly can’t believe I needed to hear it from someone before I used it.

So here’s the story.

Earlier this week I decided to catch up on Justin Wise’s Think Digital podcast.

In his episode #222 called “”Building Your Business with a System of Systems” he talks about all the, well, systems you need to have a healthy business.

Just like that, it clicked.

Go check out the podcast, but in short, I grabbed on to a few key ideas.

The two key ideas that rocked my work:

  • The pomodoro technique
  • The post-it note system
These two things, I’m telling you, were game-changers.
You can read about the pomodoro technique in this Lifehacker article, but the quick summary is this: set a timer and work for 25 minutes, then take a five minute break. Then do another 25 minutes with a 15 minute break after.
I followed this method and kept repeating the cycle through the morning for two days. I couldn’t believe how much work I got done.
I worked hard during the work times and during the breaks I refilled coffee, went to the bathroom, checked Facebook, etc. without feeling guilty about killing time.
The second game-changer is the post-it note system. The post-it note system says don’t try to do more in a day than the three or four big things you can fit on a post-it note.
The first day I used the post-it note system I had four to-dos on my post-it. I got two of them done.
You see, we usually start the day with these epic to-do lists but what Justin said on the podcast is that really about all we can get done in a day is four things.
Is that true for you?
Is getting tasks done a fight for you?
Do you get to the end of the day and think, “Did I do anything today?”
Let me tell you something: a few simple techniques can have a huge impact on what you get done…and on how you feel at the end of the day.
Check out Justin’s podcast here: Building Your Business With a System of Systems


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What to Learn from Stress, Excitement and Frustration

I’m in the middle of the biggest season of personal growth I’ve ever experienced.

Crazy things are happening in my family and professional life.

Just to give you a glimpse of what I’m talking about:

  • We brought home our fourth kid
  • Stress is piling up at the office
  • I turned a dream into a business
That’s a lot of stuff to handle.
I can’t remember a time when I’ve dealt with as much stress, frustration, joy and excitement as I’ve seen in the last four months.

I’ll tell you more of the backstory sometime, but here’s what I’m learning:

  • Action wins every time. Perfectionism, analysis and worry will steal your life. Get up and do things.
  • Deep love sometimes means you do the opposite of what your mind and feelings are screaming at you to do. Deep love honors the soul.
  • It takes help to get to the places worth going. Every single one of us needs friends, coaches and mentors we can lean on.
  • Play to win. Don’t play to not lose.
  • There are no guarantees. Waking up tomorrow isn’t even a sure thing, so give your best to the people you love and quit telling yourself there will always be tomorrow.

I’m so grateful for the last four months. Our family looks entirely different, we’re more clear than ever about our priorities, and I’m grabbing opportunities I’ve always wanted.

Growth isn’t easy, but it’s so good.

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Nine books that changed the way I see the world

I’d be lost without books. I love ’em.

But while some books simply add to my base of knowledge, every now and then a book will change the way I see the world.

Here are some of the books that have done that for me:

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Simple Life by Thom S. Rainer and Art Rainer

What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 by Tina Seelig

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

There is No Me Without You: One Woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Her Country’s Children by Melissa Fay Greene

Are any of those on the list of books that have shaped the way you see the world?

What’s not on this list that has been a game-changer for you?


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Reducing stress: One simple way to minimize your stress

When was the last time you felt completely stressed out?

Has it been a while? Was it earlier this week? Do you live under the constant weight of intense stress?

The good news, if you want to call it that, is that to live in America as a stressed-out person in America is normal. So if you feel like you’re the only one in line at Starbucks on the brink of a nervous breakdown, take heart. You’ve probably got friends there who will breakdown with you.

The 2012 Stress in America survey actually found that almost everyone says their own stress level is higher than what they believe is healthy. Beyond that, about 20% of people report living with extreme stress.

Think about that. At our offices, our churches, the ballfields – everyone is living with more stress than they think is healthy. And 1 out of every 5 people we see is almost at their wit’s end because of stress.

The causes of stress

What causes all that stress?

These three factors ranked among the top causes of stress:

  • money
  • work
  • family responsibilities

Tackling stress

The truly good news is that we’re not just living with that stress. Most people are taking steps to make things better. Sixty percent of people, in fact, have taken steps to reduce their stress.

The trouble is, even though a lot of us are taking steps to reduce our stress, we don’t think think we’re doing a good job. Only 37% of people say they’re really succeeding at reducing stress.

Meanwhile, the people working to reduce stress but not hitting the mark probably feel bad about not making progress, which in turn causes more stress. It’s a vicious cycle.

What do we do?

We can keep doing what we’re already doing to manage stress. Most people report doing these types of things:

  • exercising
  • listening to music
  • reading
  • watching TV
  • eating
  • drinking alcohol

Another way forward might be to deal with stress before it happens. Don’t even let it in the front door.

How do we do that?

Get really good at saying no.

Remember that most of the stress people report relates to money, work, and family responsibilities. Think about how much stress we could avoid if we just formed a stronger habit of saying no to ourselves and other people.

Take a look at this great blog called Nine Practices to Help You Say No from the Harvard Business Review. It’s jam-packed with practical advice that bankers, engineers, work-at-home moms, pastors and police officers – anyone – can use.

Among the insights in the blog is that saying no to something is a statement of your values. When you say no to one thing, you say yes to another thing that you value more at the same time.

Saying no is what keeps us from spinning the web of commitments that keeps us stressed out. We can’t always say no, but we can probably say no more than we think we can.

Are you stressed out?

What about you? Do you live in the slow cooker of stress that most people report living in? What types of things stress you out?

Do you live on the edge? Are you part of the 20% who feel overwhelmed by stress?

Do you think getting good at saying no would help reduce your stress?

I’m on a mission to help parents live happier, less-stressed lives. We talk about it twice a month in the Ambitious Parenting newsletter.

CLICK HERE to sign up.

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The quickest way to be more successful

I saw this article last week: 7 Reasons You’re Not As Successful As You Could Be

It’s worth a read, even if you feel like you’ve got life by the horns. If that’s you, it’ll help you understand what’s going on with some other people.

Among other insights, it says that if you’re frustrated with where you are right now it might be because you:

  • think too much
  • aren’t taking any action

[Blogger points finger at self.]

Want to be more successful at something, whether it’s performing well at work, staying healthy, or learning a craft?

Don’t overthink it. And start taking action.


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Why you win if you make things simple

When we take a look at all the commitments, responsibilities and relationships we have, life can start to look pretty complex.

If you’re not completely sold on that idea, just grab last year’s tax return. A tax return is just one small slice of life, but it’s a tricky and complex document in itself.

In that context, life always seems to be getting more complicated. As we move through seasons, we earn all new joys, opportunities, rewards, issues, frustrations and challenges.

On its own, life will always revert to the complex. That’s our nature. We put stuff on our plates without taking other things off. We keep saying yes without working hard at saying not now.

What that creates is an incredible untapped opportunity for people who make life simple.

Here’s why you’ll win if you can make life simple for other people:

1. You’ll be the contrarian.

As I’ve said, the current flows toward complexity; toward mess. The easy thing to do is plant another bush in a garden that’s already growing out of control. It’s another thing altogether to be the gardener who gets into the tangled mess and prunes, divides and removes.

2. You won’t have to fight to show your value.

While the other guys beat each other up over price, you get to sell something completely different. You sell peace. You sell a person’s time back to them. You make problems go away.

3. You’ll always be in demand.

To go back to the gardening metaphor, complexity is like weeds that grow in a garden. It’s rare to find a once-and-for-all solution. If you’re someone who makes selling a house easier, handling investments more understandable or fixing a car less of a hassle, you will earn repeat business. And people will talk about you to their friends, unless they hate their friends and like seeing them stressed out and overwhelmed.

The trick that we usually have to learn the hard way is that life gets better not as we cram more stuff into it, but as we learn to take everything but the most important stuff out of it.

What’s one thing in your life that could stand to be a little more simple than it is now?

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Wednesday wisdom

Here are a few great posts I read this week that I want you to see too:

How to Spot a Negative Nancy by Chad Missildine at The Way it Could Be. In my experience, usually the easiest way to spark a conversation with someone is to find a common gripe. That’s not the best habit. Chad’s post is helping me guard against being a constant critic or complainer.

Eeny, meeny, miny, mo by Greg Darley at If Switchfoot had decided to make “Dare You to Move” a blog post instead of a song, this is what it would say.

Did you work this weekend? by Allan Young at the SAMBA Blog. If you’re frustrated with your job, your schedule, the demands on your time – read this. Even if you’re not, read it.

Preaching on Orphan Care – James 1:27 by Zach Nielsen at Take Your Vitamin Z. Every so often, a wave of doubt about this adoption will crash over me and I’ll wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into. I’ll question my own motives, my abilities as a parent and my strength to face all of the unknowns that are ahead of us. Zach’s post is a fantastic reminder of what we’re caught up in.

What have you read this week that made an impact on you?

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What are you studying?

I wrote a post a while ago about how my tombstone is going to tell everyone that I took a lot of notes.

The first time I had to take notes was in college. When I got there, I didn’t really know what people did in college classes, so I just wrote down every word the professors said and then I’d try to memorize the notes before the exams.

I still don’t know if that’s what people do in college classes, but I graduated. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I can’t recall many of the facts that I scribbled in those classes in college, but the most important thing that happened as a result of all my time in the classroom is that something soaked into my bones: learning is for a lifetime.

So my parents paid a ton of money and I gave four years to a small private college. But that was really only the beginning of the learning process.

That’s why I’m in incessant note taker – because there are free classes happening all the time. Church is a free class. Work is a free class. Breakfast with a mentor is a free class. Books, podcasts and YouTube are free classes.

There’s more to learn than we can ever grasp, but God gave us minds than can handle it.

Life is a pretty awesome classroom. What are you studying right now?


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Wednesday wisdom

Here are three great posts for you to check out today:

You Don’t Want To Read This Post by Mike Foster at People of the Second Chance. Mike gets real about where we’ve been and the opportunity that presents for us in the days ahead.

What You Complain About is What You’re Gifted At by Ben Arment at History in the Making.

Helping Others Help You by Lindsey Nobles. The tendency to do it all on our own is baked into most of us. It’s hard to ask for help. Sometimes, we’ve got to get ourselves out of the way so others can help us.

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Wednesday wisdom

Here are three thought-provoking posts for you to check out:

How to Build Trust in Your Relationships by Tyler Braun at Man of Depravity. When I look at Tyler’s list, I know my own tendency is to choose what I’m willing as if I’m ordering off a menu. In reality, it takes all those things working together.

Playing Scales for a Few Decades by Jason B. Hood at Go at a Walking Pace. I love this illustration of what it actually looks like – and where you actually end up – when you honor your spouse.

Self Sabotage by Al Pittampalli at the SAMBA Blog. I probably need to print this one and pin it up somewhere. It’s honest.


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